I had a birthday recently. I am now 44 years old. Yippee.
What to say about 44? For starters, it’s a palindrome (the same thing forwards and backwards). And. Um. And…and I think that’s it. I suppose I could add something about how when you divide it by two, you get another palindrome (22). And if you divide by two again, you get a THIRD palindrome (11). Guess I’ll have to wait until I’m 88 before I see excitement like THAT again.
When it comes to getting older, most men have a very strong (make that impenetrable) filter that blocks out what is happening to our brains and bodies. We never allow ourselves to see the whole, rapidly degenerating, picture. Instead we see what we want to see, which generally has us nodding appreciatively and saying, “Hey, not too bad. I still got it!” while our wives and significant others shake their heads sadly.
I’m no different. For example, I tell people that I play full court basketball every week. Truth is, I play on a two thirds court, but since it’s more than a half court, I round up. And I only play with others in my age range (no 20-somethings to make us feel slow or ground bound). These are just two of dozens of shielding mechanisms used by the Captain of the Filter. His mission? Keep out any and all data regarding graying hair, sagging muscles, and my sudden inability to remember ANYTHING that isn’t written down. And then, one day – a day that starts no differently from the one before it – the filter becomes completely clogged with overwhelming data and the truth comes pouring in. As you will see below, it is NOT an enjoyable day…
Not too long ago, I found myself on an elevator with an attractive young woman who was wearing a T shirt that read, “Ithaca is Gorges”. Anyone who has been to Cornell has seen many versions of this punny quote (which refers to the beauty of the campus coupled with the many stunning gorges that appear majestically under long suspension bridges), so I turned to her, smiled with as much charm as I could muster and said, “Did you go to Cornell?”
“Yes I did! I just graduated.”
My smile widened. “Well”, I said with a self deprecating chuckle, “I’m much older than you, but I also went to Cornell.”
“Really?!” Now she’s got a big smile too and, heaven help me, the only thought in my head is “I am GOOD!!”
I cock my head, implying deep interest in her answer and ask, “Did you enjoy your time in Ithaca?”
“Oh yes, it was fantastic! I had the BEST time!”
“Me too. A wonderful experience.”
“What year did you graduate?” she asked.
“1986”, I answered.
I heard a sharp intake of breath which I saw was followed by a HUGE smile. I was in the process of telling myself, “Man, you haven’t lost a STEP. You’ve still got it!” when she lowered the boom.
“Wow, that’s so COOL!! I was BORN in 1986!”
My smile froze. I could feel the Captain of the Filter desperately shouting orders to block ear canals, suppress language comprehension – anything to stop that statement from reaching my brain. I heard him screaming, “Abort! Abort! Get off the elevator!!! DO SOMETHING!!”
The girl, oblivious to my growing distress, was genuinely thrilled to have discovered this absolutely amazing coincidence.
None of my synapses seemed to want to fire properly. I opened my mouth to speak, but all that came out was an unintelligible “Flurgle!” as the battle in my head raged on. In the end, despite the Captain’s herculean efforts, he was forced to surrender. At that moment I heard – really heard – what the girl had said, and it hit me like a sledgehammer: I was flirting with someone I could have fathered as a senior in college, and who, in the intervening years, had had enough time to grow up and graduate from college herself. I felt sick to my stomach.
I realized that I was staring at her with my mouth open. Before she decided to call the paramedics to treat what must have looked to her like some kind of seizure, I said, “Uhhh. Thanks. Thanks for that. I think I’ll skip my floor and ride the elevator to the roof. I’m going to admire the view and then I’m going to throw myself off.”
It was a brutal day. The veil, once dropped can never be replaced.
And so, I repeat: 44. It’s a palindrome. Hooray.